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Sammie Vasquez, Unsplash

“Sometimes, the only safety in this world is found in taking the right risks. When the entire world seems to be at risk, safety may only come where we risk living in truth and following the call of our souls for the benefit of everyone. When the common institutions collapse and the usual cultural containers break, amidst all the conflicts and divisions plaguing the world, our role is to recover the true spirit for living and help reveal the underlying wholeness of life.”

- Michael Meade, “Awakening the Soul”

The least I can say is that I played it safe. I didn’t, and I made a lot of stupid mistakes, but I now have a simple life in an soulful place with the love of my life. Yes, I let a large inheritance slip through my fingers, but which is more important, a grand life or a life with simple beauty and meaning? I’ll take the latter, even if I miss the money that could help with the health challenges of old age.

My youngest brother was proud of “never having made a mistake,” something I could never claim, but he was watching his older sibling get into one crazy catastrophe after another.

We were a poor family that got rich by accident. Were were all a little wild and destined for “lessons.” I was a middle child who didn’t fit into either the older group or the younger one. I lived in books more than human company anyway, something that was criticized by all factions. My father and I were probably the only ones who were not dyslexic, but I was at opposite poles from his garrulous extroversion.

He assumed that because I loved to read I would be “somebody.” But I read because I loved the expanded world of ideas and stories that existed in books. I didn’t read with an eye to social advancement.

When I continued my search for a wider world by travelling to far flung places, he was alarmed. Texas was the center of the world as far as he was concerned. He was slightly mollified when I came back speaking French or with a degree from an art school in Italy, but he couldn’t get over his suspicion of those Catholic, wine drinking cultures. They were obviously corrupt. Why couldn’t I see that?

But that combination of reading, art making and travel was my self education. It’s also why I could never successfully come back to my native roots. It’s especially why I recommend travel to any young person who wants to inhabit a larger paradigm than is on offer in America.

Intelligent travel has to be done in company with reading, though. You need context, reflection, history. Tourism doesn’t offer that. There’s not much value in just going to say you went. Unquestioned cultural conditioning can constitute an impenetrable carapace, and the longer you wait the more recalcitrant it is.

My advice is to break free as soon as possible, with whatever means you can devise.

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